“When researchers announced the discovery of a mountain taller than Everest on the asteroid Vesta, Gary Johnson had already climbed it.” So said “Gary Johnson Facts” on Twitter a while back, after noting that “A duck’s quack does not echo. Gary Johnson is solely responsible for this phenomenon.”
Like Chuck Norris, who inspired this genre of humor, Gary Johnson is not viewed with gravity by a great many people these days. This is too bad, because—unlike Norris—he should be.
The Everest gag refers to a “true fact,” as such things are called: Johnson once climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest—and he did so with frostbitten toes and a leg that had not fully healed from an earlier break. He hopes to reach the highest peak on every continent. If past is prologue, he probably will: He already has scaled Mount Elbrus, Mount McKinley, and Mount Kilimanjaro. He also has competed in the Ironman triathlon five times, has run 100 miles in 30 consecutive hours—in the Rockies—and he has nearly killed himself paragliding.
All of those adventures are just a pastime, however, for a presidential candidate who already has had two careers. When young he went into business as a handyman with zero employees. When he sold his construction company years later, it had more than 1,000.
Then he ran for governor as a Republican in heavily Democratic New Mexico. He had no prior political experience. He won by a 10-point margin. (By poetic coincidence, he beat a competitor for the GOP nomination named Dick Cheney.) Johnson spent his first term slashing taxes and reining in the growth of the state budget. Then he won a second term, and spent that crusading for school vouchers and marijuana legalization. He set a record for vetoing bills—750 of them, more than all other 49 governors combined during the same period—and left a budget surplus in his wake.
Last year Johnson ran for the Republican nomination for president. For reasons known only to the organizers, he was shut out of three early debates, which effectively killed whatever chance he had of gaining traction in the primaries. But those chances were slim to begin with, given his views on issues such as abortion (he believes “fundamentally in the right...to choose”), gay marriage (“equal acess to marriage for all Americans is a right,” he says, blasting President Obama for giving the matter only “lip service”) and national defense (he would cut the Pentagon 43 percent, just like every other department—except Education, which he would abolish).
Equally problematic in the GOP these days, he also believes in evolution. To make matters worse, “I believe in global warming and that it’s man-made.” And even though he does not use tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine, he did use marijuana for three years to ease the pain from his paragliding accident.
On the other hand, he is not likely to win over many Democrats with his views on gun control (“I don’t believe there should be any restrictions when it comes to firearms. None”), taxes (he cut them 14 times as governor), or Obamacare (he has said it is unconstitutional).
Given those positions, he’s a natural fit for the Libertarian Party—whose presidential nomination he won earlier this month. As ABC News put it, Johnson “intends to hit Obama from the left and Romney from the right. ‘I got a leg up on Obama when it comes to civil liberties,’ Johnson said. “I crush Obama when it comes to dollars and cents. I think I have a leg up on Romney when it comes to dollars and cents and I think I crush him on civil liberties.’ ” He would repeal the Patriot Act and says habeas corpus should be “respected entirely.”
Johnson has another political Achilles’ heel: He is unflinchingly honest. “Always be honest and tell the truth” is one of his Seven Principles of Good Government. A profile in GQ last year put it more bluntly: “There is nothing he will not answer, nothing he will not share. . . . Johnson is fundamentally incapable of bull****ing.” Example: When Mitt Romney made a swing through Michigan, he gushed oleaginously about how “I love this state. It seems right here. The trees are the right height. I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. . . .” By contrast, when a reporter asked Johnson if he would say the same nice things about Michigan that he had said about New Hampshire, he answered: “No, Michigan’s the worst.”
With those positions and that level of candor, he’ll be lucky to get 0.5 percent of the vote. On the other hand, he will probably enjoy the campaign. As he told another newspaper last February, “The endeavor itself is a great adventure. I’m a Zen kind of guy … You better darn well like the journey, or the destination won’t mean anything.”
A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.